How to Use Advertising Signs Properly and Effectively

There are four main kinds of advertising signs:

(a) Small advertising signs, prepared and distributed by advertisers for use inside and outside a dealer’s store, usually made of metal, cardboard, various composite materials, or cloth

(b) Painted advertising signs of large size, erected and maintained by reputable outdoor advertising organizations, located on walls, roofs, highways, or railroads

(c) Posters, lithographed on paper and erected on standard-size poster panels, approximately twenty feet long and ten feet high, usually called “billboards” by the uninitiated

(d) Cards, usually eleven by twenty-one inches, placed in surface, elevated, subway, and railway cars

A valuable adjunct, one that adds effectiveness to the rest of the campaign, is the furnishing of store advertising signs to dealers. It is not enough to stock tip the dealer with goods and then to use newspapers and periodicals to create among consumers the necessary desire to buy. There is still a wide breach between the goods on the dealer’s shelves and the impression made on the prospect by the advertising. To close this breach, the wise advertiser makes sure that there is a potent reminder in the dealer’s store to stimulate the consumer’s desire for things lie has seen advertised.

The advantage of advertising signs lies in the fact that, if outdoors, they are on duty all the time and, if in doors, all the time the store is open for business. A further advantage of indoor advertising signs is that they are generally doing their advertising within a few feet of the goods themselves or, as it has been generally termed, “at the point of purchase.” The tie-up between the impression of the sign and the appeal of the actual package is almost immediate. Another advantage of advertising signs as an advertising medium is that there is wide latitude in the use of space, color, and form. On a sign, an advertiser has the opportunity to use large display. to present his product in its natural colors, and, in some instances, even in its natural form.


The poster provides the emphatic bid for attention in the advertising campaign. It arrests the attention of the prospect. Posters are designed to make a strong but quick impression upon the passer-by. The name of the product is boldly displayed, generally with an attractive illustration, linking the name of the article and its use. Sometimes the brief text will embrace a selling point or two.

People do not stop to read a poster. It must interest and convince while they are pas by. A. F. Osborn, of Buffalo, a nationally recognized authority on advertising, has said that a poster must deliver its message in seven seconds, or the appeal is lost. Posters usually are used as supplementary media in a national advertising campaign. Some times, where periodicals have limited circulation, the poster is almost the only medium that can be used profitably.

Posters are occasionally used as a medium preliminary to periodical advertising. The manufacturers of a new model of an automobile will employ posters to herald the introduction of the car, and use the periodical space to tell about it in detail.

Poster space is sold on a monthly basis, and the display is generally changed monthly. It is customary for the advertiser to furnish the bill-posting company with about 20% more lithographed sheets than will be actually displayed, in order to cover wastage and to provide fresh sheets when old ones are mutilated.

Painted Advertising Signs

An advertiser who invests in posters buys a fixed quantity known as a “showing.” Painted advertising signs, on the other hand, are bought on the basis of individual locations selected by the advertiser, usually on a year’s contract. One painted advertising  sign, strategically located, will do the work of a number of poster locations. When buying a poster showing, the advertiser is obliged to furnish lithographed sheets to be placed on the poster panels, but in buying a painted sign the price he pays includes the cost of painting the sign.

Where poster space is not available, advertisers frequently use wall advertising signs. They may even paint the blank walls of their local dealer’s stores. This is a heritage from older days, when Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Fletcher’s Castoria, and other beneficent advertisers could be relied upon by farmers to paint their barns. Dealers often expect national advertisers to paint their store buildings, but the advertiser, not being purely a philanthropist, will take care to make his own wares known to the world. It is a difficult matter for the national advertiser to choose between posters, painted bulletins, and wall signs. Large advertisers employ all three media, choosing one or another to fit local conditions.

Car Cards

Street-car advertising is generally used to reach prospects in large cities and in thickly populated districts. National advertisers whose prod- nets are widely distributed can use signs on the suburban lines to advantage.

The car card is ordinarily used as any other sign. With its bold display and short copy, it is intended to make a brief, strong impression, although it provides the opportunity for more lengthy text than the average poster. This is due to the fact that the reader of the card will probably be within reading range of it for a considerably longer period than will the reader of signs displayed elsewhere. The element of distance that lays certain limitations on other types of advertising  signs is largely overcome by the confines of street-car interiors.

To the late Thomas Balmer, of the Street Rail-ways’ Advertising Association, is due in large measure the present recognition of the value of street-car advertising. Before his time, very little copy was used on car cards and such copy ran for an indefinite period without change. Mr. Balmer showed advertisers the possibilities of real selling copy on street-car cards and the advantages of displays in series.

Frequently, advertisers who use cards in the cars and buses also use posters, carrying the same general designs, at the elevated, subway, and railroad stations. Furthermore, they use the car cards for displays, both within the retail stores and in the retailer’s windows.

Dealers’ Use of Signs

It has been estimated that 75% of the advertising signs sent to dealers are wasted. Two outstanding factors contribute to this waste. One is that manufacturers ship such elaborate and costly window displays that the dealer will not bother to assemble and place them in his window. The other factor in producing waste is that most dealers are in receipt of such great quantities of display material that they lack both the space and the time to give it the display it deserves. The dealer seldom will take time to place a window trim or even tack up a shelf card. Some manufacturers delegate their salesmen to instruct the dealer in the use of advertising signs and window trims. Still others distribute this material through the jobber, who has his salesmen check up on its use. The life of a window trim is estimated to be z longer than two weeks. Some national advertisers provide displays of dummy packages for use in the dealer’s store window and on his shelves. These displays often remain there for months, sometimes even for years.

Many manufacturers who prepare elaborate and costly window trims (especially built-up and mechanical displays) arrange an itinerary for routing the display from one dealer to another. The dates are arranged in advance, either by the salesman or through correspondence. The dealer agrees to empty and clean his windows, and displays for a limited period are thus assured. In some instances, the manufacturer reimburses the dealer for the extra electric current used in lighting the display at night and for operating it, if motor driven.

The Printers’ Ink publications have carried a number of articles describing the plans of various manufacturers for getting dealers to install window displays. Not so much has been published concerning definite results, in the form of increased – sales, traceable to the use of window displays. There are many reasons for the scarcity of accurate statistics. The first is that the window display is of such obvious value that there is no reason for devoting a considerable amount of time to collating result figures. A second reason is that the displays are usually tied up with other forms of printed and personal selling. Occasionally, a window display is the sole piece of printed material employed to increase sales. Even under these circumstances, the display cannot be given entire credit for all the business done during the time it is installed. The product may have been known before the display was placed in the window. The display may attract a great many orders, and word-of-mouth advertising may be largely responsible for some of the business that follows. It is true that the display was the original selling force, but it cannot claim all the glory. Finally, any number of people are influenced as much by seeing the product on the shelves as by the window display.

The story is told of a jobber’s salesman who discovered a cake of Bon Ami and its wrapper in a window of a country store. It had been accidentally left there when the windows were washed the night before. The crude “display” caused the next day’s sales to rise from two or three to ten cakes. In one year, more than 7,000 of A. Stein & Company’s displays of Paris garters were used by retailers. Careful observation demonstrated that when the local advertising of the company was hooked up directly to the store by means of these window displays, the business in Paris garters increased all the way from 50-200%.

E. R. Squibb & Sons prepared a special window display, which showed a medicine cabinet containing twelve Squibb products. Before ordering the displays in large quantities, Squibb wanted to deter mine accurately whether they would be a profitable investment. With this in view, the company selected ten New York drug stores. The proprietors of these stores were asked to keep tabs on sales before the display was put in and after it was installed. The result was that the sales of the twelve Squibb prod- nets in these stores increased from 50-150%. The average increase was 100%. The increased sales of all Squibb products, traceable to the display of the twelve which had been specially featured, was from 25-150%. The aver age increase was 38%. The proof of window display value is to be found in its use. The fact that manufacturers, as a group, exert every effort to secure window displays for their product is proof enough that the window display is a practical selling medium.

National Sales Weeks

It is not uncommon for many advertisers so to arrange their campaigns that they reach a climax at a previously announced time, and to prepare elaborate window trims and other helps for dealers during that period. A good example of this practice is that of “Squibb Week.” E. R. Squibb & Sons prepared plans for the running of a teaser advertising campaign in magazines, which ran for twelve weeks prior to “Squibb Week.” In addition, they advertised in newspapers during the “Week” itself.

The trade was authorized to make special concessions, so that the druggists were in a position to offer one or more of Squibb’s products free, with every dollar purchase of Squibb’s medicine cabinet requisites. This stimulated the interest of the drug trade in the sale of Squibb products. The national advertising was linked up with window and counter displays, which were furnished to the dealers by the manufacturers. The Squibb dealer-display program was the most elaborate and complete ever attempted by the company.

Long time ago, he method of introducing Squibb products to new users through “Squibb Week” was outlined to the druggist in The Squibb Message, the company’s monthly house organ, and it was announced to the consumer in the issues of the big national magazines. The proposition was presented to the dealer as follows:


October 24th to 31st. During that week progressive drugstores everywhere will display Squibb household products.

Naturally, the consumer will wonder why it will be to his advantage to replenish his stock of household products during the week of October 24th to 31st, and all eyes will be turned toward the drug store. The following plan places the druggist in a position to take advantage of the attention, so directed to his store by Squibb Week, in a way that will result in substantial and profitable business for him.

The Squibb plan for Squibb Week enables a druggist to give a full size fifty-cent box of Squibb’s Aspirin Tablets free with every fifty-cent purchase of Squibb products. It means that the consumer, instead of coming into the store and making, say, a fifteen-cent purchase will buy those household products which should be in every medicine cabinet, in order to secure the package of Aspirin free of charge.

Having once tried Squibb household products and learned of their superiority, the consumer will continue to buy them and other quality goods from your store.

Every detail of the campaign was worked out in a way to assure the druggist the greatest benefit from the Squibb announcements in the national publications. A new special offer was arranged on Squibb household products. With that special offer, elaborate window display material was furnished so that the druggist could decorate his window, calling attention to “Squibb Week” and to the fact that he was giving a package of Squibb’s Aspirin free with every fifty-cent purchase. Folders, too, were provided which the druggist could mail to his customers, urging them to take advantage of “Squibb Week” in his store. Electrotypes, announcing “Squibb Week,” were also prepared for the use of the druggist in his local newspapers.

There were a number of interesting phases about the “Week” not mentioned above. The package of Aspirin tablets given free with every fifty-cent purchase not only was an inducement to the customer to buy other products of the company’s manufacture, but served, itself, as a sample of a new Squibb product. This product had been on the market for only a short time, and “Squibb Week” offered an exceptional opportunity to introduce it.

While the “week” campaign, staged by a single manufacturer, is not likely to be successful as a general rule, there are exceptions, and the Squibb campaign furnished an excellent illustration of the use of advertising signs in connection with such special drives.

Counter Displays

A popular form of dealer advertising  signs is the counter display. Manufacturers of small articles that find a ready sale in grocery, drug, furniture, hardware stores, etc., find the “silent sales man” counter display, as it is generally called, particularly advantageous. This form of counter display is usually a card, easel-mounted, containing any where from six to two dozen of the articles attached so as to be readily detached either by the customer or the salesman behind the counter. Dealers are generally quite willing to give counter space to such displays, inasmuch as sales are practically automatic. The card-mounting generally contains enough copy in addition to the article itself to present the main features of the article. Many novelties are introduced to the public by tins method.

Dealers prefer counter displays showing the goods themselves, rather than advertising signs that merely tell about the good This is especially true of a display that permits the customer to pick up and examine the article displayed. The manufacturers of paints, varnishes, and enamels have found great value in the counter display that exhibits small blocks of wood treated with their various products. Such displays not only enable the customer to visualize the effect of the finished product, but also expedite his choice of paints, etc.

In displaying certain small wares, counter displays are of great importance. Articles of this type are likely to be hidden in an out-of-the-way place unless the manufacturer furnishes a sufficiently attractive display rack. Many cleverly designed counter displays are working models in miniature. Door checks, screen-door closers, window latches, and burglar alarms are a few of the displays thus shown, which enable the prospect to examine them and test the mechanism.

Getting the Dealer to Pay for Display Material

There is a large number of manufacturers who are succeeding in charging their dealers for at least some of the advertising helps which they send to them. However, it is not possible to charge retailers for all the “helps” that may be offered, nor can all manufacturers succeed in billing the merchant for this material. It all depends on the line. The practice of making the dealer share the cost of store advertising matter has worked out best in the men’s clothing, automotive equipment, and electrical appliances fields, with an occasional manufacturer in other lines following a similar plan. A study must be made of the situation in each field.

If the line is a large enough factor in the retailer’s business, if it offers him a chance to make real money in selling it, he will be disposed to listen to a proposal that he pay something for the display. That is why the manufacturers of trade-marked clothing are so successful in getting their dealers to pay part of the cost of their store helps. 75% of the retailer’s total business may he in one or two brands of clothes. Whatever success he has achieved, he owes to the merit and ready salability of these clothes. If only for selfish reasons, he should be willing to pay for advertising a line that is bringing him his bread and butter, and perhaps his pie and turkey, too. The same thing is true of the auto mobile dealer. If he is at all intelligent, he can see that there is a connection between his own success and the advertising which is being given the ear he is handling.

This principle is so widely recognized that several manufacturers not only charge the dealer for helps, but also for part or all of the newspaper and other local advertising done in his territory. This is usually worked out on some arbitrary basis, the dealer contributing toward the advertising fund five dollars, or some such amount, for every car that is shipped to him.

Several experiments have been conducted which seem to prove that the dealer responds better to an offer of advertising help if a charge is made for the proffered helps. Some time ago, one of the auto mobile manufacturers made up several hundred sets of lantern slides. These were offered free to a selected list of dealers, with no appreciable results. Then a small charge was placed on each set, with the result that the dealers began to accept the offer liberally. The charge seemed immediately to place the stamp of desirability on the proposition, confirming the old truism that what is free is not valued.

These plans worked out in lines where the dealer’s business on the product runs up into thousands of dollars a year. On a hotly competitive article, such as tooth paste, on which the small dealer’s sales of any one brand would amount to only a few dollars annually, it would not be possible to get him to make much of an investment in helps.

In order to help dealers establish a record for one year in the sale of Delco Light products, the Delco Light Company organized a special direct-by-mail department in its factory. This was done for the express purpose of mailing literature to 200,000 Delco Light prospects during the year. The object of the campaign was to help dealers turn these prospects into customers. Five pieces of literature were sent, direct from the factory, to each one of the 200,000 prospects.

The dealer’s part in the campaign was very simple. Each month the Delco Company sent him a folder containing ten prospect cards. When these cards were filled out, each contained a complete record of a prospect’s status. One side of the card carried spaces for the name. and address; and the reverse side, for specific information regarding the prospect, such as kind of farm, number of acres, children, their ages, how washing is done, by whom, number of milk cows, cream separators, hand-operated machinery tractor, automobile, number of hens, water supply, wells (deep or shallow), distance of well from house, and date of demonstration.

Dealers were asked to fill out these cards as completely as possible and return them to the factory at once. Each one of the ten names was supposedly a likely prospect, one who would be immediately influenced, in the dealer’s opinion, in favor of Delco Light by the five-piece campaign. As soon as the cards were received by the factory, the first folder was mailed to each prospect, the others being sent at intervals of one week. For this service, dealers were asked to pay the postage, amounting to five cents for each prospect; and, since the dealers furnished only ten names a month, the monthly cost to them was but fifty cents.

The advertising managers of six leading companies engaged in manufacturing electrical goods happened to meet in New York recently, after having attended the sessions of an organization of which they are members. They fell to discussing dealer helps and wondered how much each was paying for this branch of his advertising activities.

“Let’s each write the amount secretly on a slip of paper,” suggested one. “Then we can put the slips in a hat, shuffle them about, and know the whole amount without getting too deep in particulars.”

This was done. To the surprise of all, the six found that their companies had together spent more than $1,400,000 in the preceding year in dealer helps—helps that not only were given the dealer, but were almost forced upon him.

“And the tragedy of it,” one manager said, “is that fully 75% of this huge amount is money wasted.”

Whereupon the six made a solemn vow that, beginning with the next year, their dealers would have to pay for service matter, window cut-outs, signs, displays, display fixtures, direct-by-mail material, and the like.

This is an exceedingly vexatious problem that the individual manufacturer must work out for himself. Sometimes it is advisable to make the dealer pay and sometimes it is not. Generally speaking, how ever, it is advisable—not because of the reduction in expense made possible thereby in the service department, but because of its effect in causing the dealer to use the material. When he buys a thing, he is not so likely to add it to the junk pile already in his basement, or to stuff it into his furnace.

It is human nature for a dealer not to appreciate fully what is given to him free, and often without any solicitation on his part. To get him to value it properly, dealer helps, of whatever nature, should be more or less “difficult” for him to get.

It is all an adaptation of the tried and true principle that no good thing in life, not even excluding money, is fully appreciated unless it is earned or paid for.

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